Magic Lantern for Rebel T2i/550D — a key tool for DSLR video journalists and filmmakers

UPDATED 1-30-12

I teach in the School of Communication at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, where we have purchased 18 Canon Rebel T2i for our intro video production class (EMF 225 Production Techniques). We have limited funds, so the price point was perfect, especially when combined with the kit lens, spare battery, Rode VideoMic Pro, windscreen, 16GB memory card, a 50mm f/1.8 lens, UV filters, headphone adapter cable, a tripod, and a bag–which puts the kit at around $1500. (The equipment page on this site lists the Canon 60D package — go to this link for the Rebel T2i (550D) package I’ve put together at B&H.)

Yes, we purchased a number of Canon 60D kits for our advanced classes — with its manual control of audio and swivel LCD screen — but for half the price you can get a camera that puts out an image just as strong.

And with the firmware hack, Magic Lantern, for free (you should donate to help the cause), you can’t go wrong. It includes disabling of the automatic gain control (AGC) for audio — which is absolutely key when you want to even attempt to get usable audio in your footage. Furthermore, it puts the audio bars on top of the LCD so you can see what the audio is doing — and you can buy a Sescom cable and plug in headphones! In addition, it includes a spot meter, zebra patterns, histogram, and crop marks for safety zones (for broadcast purposes) — and one of the coolest things: blue pixels light up the focus plane, so you don’t have to wonder if you’re close on the focus — you know you’re there. You can even dial in color temperature, which is a feature of the more expensive Canon cameras!

I have installed it on one of my school’s Rebels and it works great! Be sure to go to the config menu and save any changes. The firmware also works for the 60D and 5D Mark II — but not the 7D, and the audio tools (including the headphone jack) do not work on the Rebel T3i (600D).

I love the fact that the LCD brings up the percentage figure of exposure on the spot meter and it provides the focal length on my zoom lens and it gives me the focal distance of what is in focus (in cm)! This means you can mark focus with tape. Most excellent!

Ok, the pic is a bit blurry because I used a Droid to take this image:

Image by Kurt Lancaster based on Dec. 2011 build. The audio meters change color (green for within the zone, yellow getting hot, red for clipping). The focus distance is in cm/meters. The exposure percentage occurs within the area of the rectangle, center (which indicates a 6% exposure in the dark are of the Christmas tree). While the histogram hovers above center to the right.

The install instructions are located here:

The user guide instructions is located here:

Here’s my short guide (I take no responsibility for failed installs and damage to your camera. Proceed at your own risk):

1) Be sure the Rebel has the latest firmware release (1.0.9). If not, then go Canon’s website and get the latest firmware, then Scroll to the bottom of this page and hit “I agree”: You’ll be taken to another page where you can download the firmware. Place the file on your memory card. Put the camera in manual mode on the top dial and dial over to the third toolbar menu. Go to firmware and click on it to update. Let it do it’s thing.

2) Download the firmware from this page: (22 Dec. 2011), and unzip it, or go to the direct link, here: DOWNLOAD

3) Plug in your camera’s memory card to your computer and delete Canon’s 1.0.9 firmware from the card.

4) Copy all of the MagicLantern files to the card (don’t place it in any folders).

5) Put the memory card back into the camera.

6) Update the MagicLantern firmware as if you’re doing step 1: Put the camera in manual mode on the top dial and dial over to the third toolbar menu. Go to firmware and click on it to update. Let it do it’s thing.

7) Pull out the battery for about 10 seconds and turn the camera off.

(8) Dial the camera to video mode. Turn on the camera and hit the delete button to bring up the menu.

9) The camera will use Magic Lantern with this card. If you want to use it on other cards, then you will need to install the same files.  Delete the files manually (and empty the trash). The card should be formated about once a month to keep it clean.

10) Read the Users Guide to see what each function does.

My settings:

Default settings for audio, including AudioMeter: ON

Global Draw: ON (turn it OFF and ON again by using the SET button)–this will clear the Magic Lantern text on the LCD screen
Histogram: ON
Zebras: OFF (I prefer to see my shot without all the red and blue graphics getting in the way)
CropM: OFF (I only need it if I want the “safety” zones, which I really don’t worry about)
Spotmeter: ON

Trap Focus: OFF
ISO: Here you can dial in ISO settings beyond what Canon provides.
Shutter: You can choose shutter increments beyond what Canon provides.
White Bal: Hit the SET button to dial in your color temperature.

Brack [Test bracket]–I don’t use it.

Focus–I don’t use this since I focus manually.
Focus peaks: Superb. Allows for critical focus with glowing pixels on the focal plane.

Debug–Don’t go there unless you know what you’re doing.



Kurt Lancaster, PhD, is the author of “DSLR Cinema: Crafting the Film Look with Video, Focal Press, 2011.” He teaches digital filmmaking and multimedia journalism at Northern Arizona University’s School of Communication.

One thought on “Magic Lantern for Rebel T2i/550D — a key tool for DSLR video journalists and filmmakers

  1. I showed it to a 7D owner, who teared up a bit. Then showed a 550D owner who didn’t know any better and they suggest that I had doubled the value of the camera! Imagine that 2 cameras for the price of 1. I have a recent build with focus peaking, this alone makes the camera useable (so hard to pick focus without a loupe) and all i wanted was to turn off AGC.

    If a 550D (t2i) owner doesn’t have this, they should run (not walk) to install it. Unleash the beast within.

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